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"Sylvie Guillem - Life in Progress" Showcases a Dancer's Farewell at New York City Center
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"Sylvie Guillem - Life in Progress" Showcases a Dancer's Farewell at New York City Center

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Les Nuits de Fourvière, Sylvie Guillem

Sylvie Guillem - Life in Progress
(Sylvie Guillem Bio)

A Sadler’s Wells London Production

Arlene Schuler, President & CEO
Mark Litvin, Sr. VP & Managing Director
Joe Guttridge, Director, Communications

At New York City Center

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
November 12, 2015

Techné (US Premiere): Choreography by Akram Khan, Performed by Sylvie Guillem, Music by Alies Sluiter, Lighting by Adam Carree and Lucy Carter, Costume by Kimie Nakano, Musicians: Prathap Ramachandra on Percussion, Grace Savage n Beatboxing, Alies Sluiter on Violin, Vocals, Laptop.

DUO2015 (US Premiere): Choreography by William Forsythe, Performed by Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts, Music by Thom Willems, Lighting by Tanja Rühl, Staging by Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts.

Here & After (US Premiere): Direction and Choreography by Russell Maliphant, Performed by Sylvie Guillem and Emanuela Montanari, Music by Andy Cowton, Lighting by Michael Hulls, Costumes by Stevie Stewart.

Bye (2011): Choreography by Mats Ek, Performed by Sylvie Guillem, Music by Ludwig van Beethoven (Piano Sonata Op. 111, “Arietta”), Set and Costume by Katrin Brannstrom, Lighting by Erik Berglund, Filmography by Elias Benxon.

After dancing key roles in renowned full-length ballets with the Paris Opera Ballet and the Royal Ballet of London, including leads in Swan Lake, and Giselle, as well as modern dance with Sadler’s Wells and beyond for almost four decades, Sylvie Guillem is performing her last farewell tour. On these pages, Ms. Guillem has been reviewed as Marguerite in Marguerite and Armand in the Royal Ballet’s 2004 “Ashton Celebration” at Lincoln Center, and then again in 2006 with Russell Maliphant, dancing his modern choreography at City Center, called Push. Tonight’s selections were balletic only in high leg extensions, and, sadly, there was no male-female pas de deux, even modern or otherwise. But, the choreographies, mostly US Premieres, introduced mesmerizing concepts fusing unique stage design with modern dance. Ms. Guillem appeared in three of the four works, with two of those being exceptional solos. I found the three Guillem-performed works engaging, upbeat, and fanciful, with elements of yearning and wistfulness sewn within.

Akram Khan’s Techné, with Ms. Guillem crawling about the dim stage, reaching toward an illuminated, steel-wired tree, with bare limbs that later expand and twirl, was stunning. In fact, I hope to find a recording of the score, by Alies Sluiter, to listen again to its spellbinding, swirling musicality. Mr. Sluiter, on violin, vocals, and laptop, collaborated with Grace Savage, on live beatboxing, and Prathap Ramachandra, on percussion. When Ms. Guillem stands and spins, then lands on her arms and legs like a panther stalking its prey, the audience remains breathless.

The following work, William Forsythe’s DUO2015, was at least twice as long as it should have been and half as interesting. Thom Willems’ score (he frequently composes for Mr. Forsythe’s works) begins in actual silence. Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts, in loose-fitting tank tops and jersey dance pants, perform a mirror-image sequence of rapidly sliding arms, as torsos bend and slither, before they gymnastically perform quasi dance stunts, while twitching and twirling legs and arms. Although many in the audience seemed amused, I found the work lacking in any form of tribute to an infamous ballerina’s farewell tour.

Russell Maliphant, with whom Ms. Guillem performed in the 2006 City Center program, choreographed Here & After, seen tonight before intermission. Ms. Guillem and Emanuela Montanari danced a mirrored duet, strangely, at first, all too similar to the Forsythe work, but later more complex. The rear spotlights of the bare stage rise and lower, shifting the lighting from dark to dim. Andy Cowton’s evocative score, including the sound of midsummer crickets, presented electronic phrases strikingly reminiscent of the theremin I had just heard at Merkin Hall. Striped patterns tattooed the women’s duet, thanks to Michael Hull’s clever lighting design. Ms. Guillem and Ms. Montanari walked in circles, facing each other, before connecting with intertwining limbs and shapes.

The final work, brilliantly conceived by Mats Ek and perfect for this occasion, was called Bye, a final solo for Ms. Guillem. Beethoven’s “Arietta” Sonata formed the elegant score. A vertical, illuminated screen is seen with an expansive woman’s eye, up close in black and white. Ms. Guillem moves backwards, and one sees that the eye belongs to her, all on an avante garde, black-white, live movie. Then she moves an arm, her head, and from the left of the stage right screen we see Ms. Guillem in natural color, on the outside looking in. She wears a youthful dress and appears to become younger and more energized, than when she appeared in her first solo, when crouching around a tree. Now she’s rambunctious, smiling, and she and a group of filmed actors wave to one another from within and outside the movie screen. Later Ms. Guillem, after romping and cavorting, walked behind the screen and waved to the audience, one last time. Of the four choreographies, this impressive concept by Mr. Ek, with Elias Benxon’s filmography and Erik Berglund’s lighting, received the strongest, vocal accolades from the audience. Kudos to Sylvie Guillem.

Sylvie Guillem in Akram Khan's "TECHNÈ"
Courtesy of Bill Cooper

Brigel Gjoka and Riley Watts in
William Forsythe's "DUO2015"
Courtesy of Bill Cooper

Sylvie Guillem and Emanuela Montanari
in Russell Maliphant's "HERE & AFTER"
Courtesy of Bill Cooper

Sylvie Guillem in Mats Ek's "BYE"
Courtesy of Bill Cooper

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at